Italian word of the day: 'Complimenti'

Jessica Phelan
Jessica Phelan - [email protected] • 2 Jul, 2020 Updated Thu 2 Jul 2020 14:18 CEST
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Give yourself a pat on the back if you know how to use this common phrase.


Did you know that Italian has at least two ways to say 'congratulations'?

There's auguri, which is what you'd say to someone on their birthday, at their wedding or the birth of their child. It comes from the verb augurare ('to wish', 'to bid') and is essentially like offering someone your 'best wishes': you're not just celebrating the occasion, but wishing them well for what comes next.

Auguri di pronta guarigione.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Complimenti, on the other hand, is for when you want to congratulate someone on a job well done. It means, literally 'compliments' – in the same sense that a satisfied diner might send their "compliments to the chef".

Complimenti per la laurea!
Congratulations on your graduation!

But it also reflects a more general appreciation of something. Italian speakers use complimenti at times we'd rarely say 'congratulations' in English (much like they say bravo of things that wouldn't get a 'well done!' from an Anglophone).

It's tough to translate exactly what it means in this context, but essentially it's just a way to tell someone you like something they do, have or are.

Complimenti, parli molto bene l'italiano.
Nice one, you speak very good Italian. 

Complimenti, che bella casa!
What a lovely house you have!

While giving someone your complimenti is almost always positive (unless you're being sarcastic), the word can also refer to needless formalities – like 'fuss' or 'guff'.

When you want to skip the niceties and get to the heart of the matter, you tell someone not to bother with complimenti.

Lasciamo da parte i complimenti, non c'é tempo da perdere.
Let's not stand on ceremony, there's no time to waste.

Senza complimenti, gli dissi chiaramente ciò che pensavo di lui.
I told him clearly what I thought of him without sugar-coating it.

Leaving out the complimenti can make you sound a little brusque...

Senza tanti complimenti ha preso la mia macchina e se n'è andata.
Without so much as a 'by your leave', she took my car and off she went.

... but if someone else invites you to do it, it means they want you to make yourself at home.

Non fare complimenti, serviti!
Don’t be shy, help yourself!

And if that's not a compliment, I don't know what is.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.







Jessica Phelan 2020/07/02 14:18

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